“Just wanted to give you a heads-up. Tom Wolf is replacing Bill Green as chair of the SRC…”
When my friend Vince called me with that bit of news early Sunday evening, I said, oh, okay.
While it was interesting on one level that Wolf decided to put Commissioner (and former School District of Philadelphia Principal) Marjorie Neff in the chairperson’s seat, it wasn’t unprecedented.
Since former Philadelphia Mayor John Street and former Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker put their heads together and created the School Reform Commission in 2001, every governor has gone in and changed the deck chairs on this particular version of the Titanic.
When Gov. Ed Rendell came in, original chair James Nevels was out and Sandra Dungee-Glenn became the new chair. When Tom Corbett became governor, Dungee-Glenn moved aside to make way for Robert Archie. Archie then resigned in disgrace and was replaced by the last person to oversee the board when it was under local control, Pedro Ramos.
And when Ramos left, Green was given the keys.
The bottom line is, it happens. Sure, no one was expecting it so soon, but anyone who thought that Wolf was going to continue to allow Bill Green to remain the Dilettante-In-Chief of the School Reform Commission, was ignoring the precedent.
But while it’s not a new thing, this particular changing of the guard seems to be getting a lot more attention than previous ones have gotten for a couple of reasons.
One is because of how Green is taking it. To take the SRC Chairmanship, which is unpaid, Green resigned his City Council At-Large seat and claims to have given up his pension, which doesn’t sound quite right to me, but okay.
Green took to the District’s video portal to send a video message in which he touted his achievements like getting a cigarette tax (that had a demand for a bunch of brand new, un-reimbursed charter schools attached to it) passed, closing schools and getting labor concessions and decried Wolf’s decision.
You see, Green was under the impression that unlike Nevels, Dungee-Glenn, Archie, Ramos and everyone else whose held the seat of SRC chair, the position was his for as long as he wanted it and that Gov. Wolf has no say.
“Commissioner Neff told me that although she believed I was doing an excellent job as chair, the governor’s people were unwilling to work with me,” Green said. “I accepted the position as chair with the understanding that I could not be removed from office according to the District’s own legal council,” Green said. “I will be filing an action in Commonwealth Court. I did not set up the governance of the SRC and I am not seeking to remain chair for power’s sake.”
No one has said who is going to pay for Green’s legal action in Commonwealth Court, but I get the feeling that it’s going to be added to the district’s legal bills.
(And can we talk about how many legal fees that Green is probably responsible for since becoming chair?! The court battle over the teacher’s contract has probably cost the district the equivalent of the cost of a librarian to fight…)
But the other reason why folks are paying so much attention to this changing of the guard is because of what it might mean for the SRC itself.
I sat down at a coffee shop in Center City with Gov. Wolf when he was just Tom Wolf, Democratic primary candidate for Governor. Among the things I asked him about was education and he shared his views on funding equity, restoring the money taken from education during the Corbett Administration..,
And how the School District of Philadelphia as it currently stands doesn’t work for the people who have the most to lose.
“I would consider giving the district back to local control because the subtle implication in the creation of the SRC is that Philadelphia should have non-Philadelphia oversight when it comes to its school district,” Wolf said in our interview. “Locally supported education makes a difference and when it’s not there, it diminishes the quality of life for all of us. The School Reform Commission stands in the way of acknowledging this responsibility.”
Because of this, the removal of Green as chair of the SRC made a lot of folks who know that the only way the SRC can be disbanded is if the governor’s appointees are told to make it happen do the happy dance. Local control was a campaign promise. Sunday’s move was seen as a promise kept.
Now will it stay this way? Who knows? Although Commonwealth Court hasn’t been on the side of the SRC, I don’t see Green stopping there if he isn’t restored as chairman. And getting rid of the SRC without dealing with the funding (or lack of funding) issues the district faces could cause more harm than good to a district that’s already dealing with enough of that.
But it’s forcing us to take a look at the largest experiment currently being conducted in urban education and ask, seriously, “Is this working?’
This should be interesting…
Denise Clay is a veteran journalist, a former adjunct professor, and an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She is a regular contributor to Solomonjones.com. Click here to learn more about Denise.